Last night during the Oscars, Tyler Perry was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. During his speech he said, “I refuse to hate someone because they are Mexican or because they are Black or white or LBGTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they are a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian.” And the inclusion of “a police officer” in his list of identities left more than a few people scratching their head… And it left me with this song going through mine:
Including a chosen profession within a list of of ethnicities, nationalities, and races seems like a curious choice… Like if I said, “It’s time we stop discriminating against people on the basis of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, or their decision earn a living by enforcing racial hierarchies and disproportionately harassing & oppressing People of Color.” And it seems an especially weird choice after a week where — in the wake of the guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd — you couldn’t go 12 hours without new news and body cam footage of YET ANOTHER unarmed Black person getting gunned down by a police officer.
Last summer after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I participated in a few different protests here in Nashville. It was my first time seeing the tag “ACAB” spray painted on the wall of some of the downtown buildings. I didn’t want to ask someone what it stood for and out myself as the noob protestor, so I looked it up on my phone: “All Cops Are Bastards.” My initial thought was, “Well that doesn’t seem fair. I am good friends with a couple cops, and I don’t think THEY are bastards. How about MOST Cops Are Bastards… MCAB?” It reminded me of the first time I felt the defensiveness inside me, and felt like saying “Not All Men” or “Not All White People” when hearing criticisms of those groups as a whole.
When people are critical of a problem that is endemically shared by a group of people, it is not particularly helpful to point out that “NOT ALL” of the people within that group share the problem. If statistics show that Black people’s health is more severely affected by COVID-19, it doesn’t really matter that you know a Black person who barely got sick… or that your uncle is white, and COVID ended up putting him on a ventilator. In the same way, when people show evidence that racism & police brutality are a significant problem within law enforcement, it’s not really significant that know a police officer and you think he’s a good person. The truth is that this country has a giant problem with racism in policing. So when Tyler Perry — who I have little doubt is probably about as nice a guy as billionaires get — includes someone’s chosen profession in the same categorical list as a person’s heritage or their orientation in his “reject hate” speech, it smacks of the garbage that is “Blue Lives Matter.” There are Black lives. There are LGBTQIA+ lives. There are Mexican & white & Asian lives… But there are no such thing as “blue lives.” Those other categories do not involve choice. If someone gets a job working for ICE and earns money by separating immigrant families from each other, I think it’s alright to hate that… In the same way it’s alright to hate injustice. And systemic racism. And xenophobia.
I don’t “hate” people because they are police officers. But I do make some assumptions. Just like I make some assumptions when I see someone wearing a MAGA hat: After talking to you, I might find that you are a perfectly kind, reasonable human being… But it’s going to be a BIG surprise. And I’m going to be honest with you about what that hat (and that uniform) has come to represent to me and many of the oppressed people I care about.
So of course “I refuse to hate someone because they are a police officer.” Just like I am not going to hate someone just because they are a white evangelical. But you better believe that I hate the force for evil in the world that is “White Evangelicalism.” Just like I hate the force for state-sanctioned violence and systemic racism that policing has become. By and large, I agree with most everything Tyler Perry said in his speech. I think there is too much hate in the world today… But trying to get people to stop hating injustice because “hate is wrong” is the same kind of nonsense that tries to convince people they need to be “tolerant” of the intolerance of white supremacy. And him slipping “police officer” in with his “reject hate” speech is like when people try to equate calling cops “pigs” with using racial or homophobic slurs… It’s just not the same. We can be angry about choices that people make. We can hate those choices… Like the choice to work enforcing state-sanctioned violence & oppression against People of Color. Or like the choice to fire a gun and put four bullets into a Black child named Ma’Khia Bryant. Or the choice to fire seven shots at another unarmed Black man (Isaiah Brown) who called 911 while he held a phone to his ear, still on the call with 911. Or the choice to stay silent when you know that an officer you work with is saying racist things and acting inappropriately. If we’re not hating those things, then we’re doing a terrible job of “rejecting hate.”
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